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Why Baptism? | Acts 16:29-34

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household. Acts 16:29-34

It took me a long time to understand the need to be baptized. If baptism in and of itself didn’t save you- just demonstrated a decision you already made- did it matter? It seemed like an “extra credit” thing that the overachieving youth group kids did. And I was not an overachieving youth group kid. It wasn’t until years later- and hearing a more robust explanation of baptism than I had before- that I realized its importance. While it’s true that the act of baptism doesn’t save, Jesus changes everything and he has changed me. Why not acknowledge and declare, to myself and others, all that he has done and that in him I am a new creation?

Over and over in the book of Acts, those who believe the good news about Jesus are often immediately baptized in the name of Jesus. We see it here, with the Philippian jailer and his family (v. 33), as well as the stories of Lydia (Acts 16:15), Philip and the Eunuch (Acts 8:38) and Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:48), as well as many others. Belief and acceptance of good news is followed by joyful action.

If you have already been baptized, spend some time today thinking about that day, why you were baptized, and the joy and celebration of that day. If you have not been baptized but consider yourself a follower of Jesus maybe it’s time to consider taking that step. If you are interested in baptism- even if it’s just in finding out more about it- you can let us know here.

By Jessica Rust

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Why Baptism? | Acts 16:29-342021-11-09T13:50:22-07:00

The Story Shifts | Acts 8-9

…On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. Acts 8:1b-3

If you think back to the very beginning of Acts you may remember that Jesus gave the disciples a promise and a commission: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” Acts 1:8). In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit came upon them, with the result that many in Jerusalem- even those originally from all around the world- heard the gospel and believed. Yet up until Acts 8 we have seen the church mainly stay in Jerusalem. Acts 8 is where this all changes. A great persecution, triggered by the death of Stephen in Acts 7, forces the believers to flee and from here on out in the story we mainly see the spread of the gospel around the Roman world as opposed to just what is happening in Jerusalem.

From here on out we will spend less time in Jerusalem and more time following the church as it spreads to Judea and the Mediterranean world at large, especially through Paul’s mission to the gentiles.

So why does this matter, apart from giving us context for this week’s passage of Acts 9? Sometimes we may be so familiar with the stories of Scripture, and, if you have been around church for a while, the story of Paul, that we fail to really see the big picture. The story of Paul’s conversion to Christianity is an amazing, miraculous story in and of itself but it also is part of God doing yet another new thing within this fledgling church which should also inspire our awe and praise. After all, the spread of the gospel throughout the Greco-Roman world will have ripple effects throughout the centuries that eventually lead to our church communities and our own knowledge of the gospel. God knows what he is doing as he sends his people out, even if it’s under duress.

Today, take some time to meditate on the spread of the gospel throughout the centuries, starting with the events of Acts. Thank God for the ways the gospel has spread that allowed you to hear and receive the good news and ask him how you can be part of its spread this week.

By Jessica Rust

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The Story Shifts | Acts 8-92021-11-04T14:56:46-06:00

The Evangelistic Power of Obedience | Acts 6:7

So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. Acts 6:7

Up to this point we have seen the church grow, and grow quickly, as a result of miracles, preaching, and the organic life of the church. We see exponential growth again in this passage- but what precedes it? The church dealing with logistical and leadership issues because of inequality in distributing food. It doesn’t seem like those nitty-gritty issues of church life would spark revival and church growth, but we’re told that “the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith” (6:7). And the growth of the church seems to be directly tied to how the church handles conflict earlier in the chapter.

The way that the church handles conflict and cares for one another- especially the most vulnerable among them- matters just as much for the growth of the church and the spread of the gospel as the miracles and preaching. If we are followers of Jesus, we need to remember that how we live in community and how we love one another matters as much for our witness as our words do. After all, Jesus says “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

So how do we love one another as the church? In Acts 6 we see concern for the material needs of those around us, especially the vulnerable. Maybe for you that will look like serving in the South Food Bank or bringing a meal to someone you know has a lot on their plate right now. Perhaps it looks like giving your time or talents to serve those who have a need in an area you are skilled in (if this is you, we would love to hear from you at [email protected]). It can look like an encouraging word or a word of prayer. It can look like repentance and apology when you have done wrong- intentionally or unintentionally. Or perhaps you need to receive love and care from your church community today. If there is a way we can pray for you, talk with you, or a way we can assist you with a material need, please let us know. Let the ways we love one another as South Fellowship- both giving care and receiving it- bear witness to the world around us that Jesus Christ is worth following.

By Jessica Rust

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The Evangelistic Power of Obedience | Acts 6:72021-10-21T15:58:31-06:00

Are We At Risk? | Acts 5:3-4

Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” Acts 5:3-4

Sometimes, when we read accounts in Scripture of a dramatic event it can be easy to distance ourselves from what is happening, I would guess most, if not all, of us have never witnessed someone being struck dead for lying to the Holy Spirit- let alone two people! And yet, these are accounts of real events that happened to real people, not so different from us.

At the very end of Acts 4, we learn that “Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet” (4:36-37). Presumably, the kudos given to Barnabas for a generous, selfless act played a part in Ananias and Sapphira’s decisions because immediately afterwards we are told that they, too, sold property and put some- but not all- of the proceeds at the feet of the apostles. There are many motivations we can see here: greed, perhaps? A longing for acclamation and importance among this community? Pride? All of these motivations are so commonplace aren’t they? And who among us can claim to have never been tempted by, or acted upon, these same motivations?

Experiencing these same temptations of pride, greed, and a desire for recognition and importance doesn’t mean that God will necessarily strike you down publicly. There are many people throughout the pages of Scripture who sin and don’t die a dramatic death. But we do need to remember that if we leave our sin as it is, undealt with and unconfessed, we are not far off from Ananias and Sapphira.

Pray through Psalm 51 today. Confess whatever you need to confess and ask God to “create in [you] a pure heart” (Ps. 51:10).

By Jessica Rust

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Are We At Risk? | Acts 5:3-42021-10-14T12:38:10-06:00

Prayer for Boldness | Psalm 2:1-3

Why do the nations conspire

    and the peoples plot in vain?

The kings of the earth rise up

    and the rulers band together

    against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,

“Let us break their chains

    and throw off their shackles.” Psalm 2:1-3

Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus. Acts 4:29-30

Acts 4 concludes the story of the first inkling of persecution against the early church. Peter and John have been arrested and threatened, and now the church needs to reckon with it. In their prayer they both acknowledge the powerlessness the forces arrayed against them ultimately have, citing Psalm 2, and they pray for boldness.

If you read back through Acts this may be surprising, since it looks like the believers have been pretty bold the whole time! They’re certainly not hesitant to share the gospel, meet with one another, or act in the power of the Spirit. And yet, they still ask. Sometimes we need to ask for boldness when we feel we have none, and sometimes we need to ask for the boldness to continue in a path we know is right, but is difficult terrain all the same. The disciples were in the latter camp. Which one are you in?

Is there a part of your Christian walk that seems difficult or even impossible to you? Maybe you feel the struggle to continue walking faithfully when resolution to your situation seems far off. Perhaps the weight of the world seems too discouraging. Pray the believers’ prayer from Acts 4 today and ask God to renew your strength.

By Jessica Rust

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Prayer for Boldness | Psalm 2:1-32021-10-13T10:15:19-06:00

Why Are You Surprised? | Acts 3:12

When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?” Acts 3:12

Peter’s audience were devout Jews. They were at the temple to worship. They would have known the scriptures that point towards the Messiah and the signs that should accompany them, yet they are surprised at a miraculous healing and the power of the Spirit, and Peter calls it out.

I have to admit, I would probably have a similar reaction to the crowd. Biblically, I understand that nothing is impossible for God (Matt. 19:26), and theologically I have no problem affirming that God heals, sometimes miraculously, and the Spirit empowers those who believe in Jesus Christ to do amazing things in the name of Jesus for his glory. However, if I were to personally witness a miraculous healing, or something along those lines, I probably wouldn’t know what to do with it. My faith says “yes,” my personal comfort zone says “maybe.”

Perhaps this is because I come from a faith background that really didn’t address the miraculous. Maybe it’s because we live in a Western context which, as we have mentioned in previous Dailies, doesn’t observe the miraculous often. Probably, though, it’s also because we tend to want God and the things of God to be neat and understandable when all of Scripture demonstrates that’s simply not the case. And if it was, he wouldn’t be much of a God to follow.

Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of what God has done and demonstrated about himself in order to see what he is doing now, or trust what he might do or will do in the future. Celebrate today how you have seen God show up in big ways, whether in your life, in the lives of others, or even in the pages of Scripture.

By Jessica Rust

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Why Are You Surprised? | Acts 3:122021-10-01T15:36:42-06:00

A Community Blueprint? | Acts 2:42-47

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47

Doesn’t this sound ideal? The fledgling church is a tight-knit community, fellowshipping together, praying together, learning together, and meeting one another’s needs. And they are seeing the fruit of their efforts! More and more people are coming to Jesus. Isn’t this what we long for when we think of being part of a church community? A place where we and others belong and grow, and we witness the work of the Lord and the growth of his church daily.

So many times I have seen this passage in Acts held up as the gold standard. This is the real church, how we should behave, how we should model all our Sunday morning gatherings and small groups. Anything else is a broken model, too bureaucratic or consumeristic to really make a difference or honor scripture. This all-or-nothing, Acts-or-nothing, approach to the church isn’t necessarily wrong. It’s a desire to see the people of God at their best. And, maybe, a desire for a blueprint to “get things right” when church, by its nature, can be messy. But I do think this approach is missing something.

The believers gather together in response to the amazing message of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and their belief in it. They don’t live in community with one another, and love one another in such a remarkable way, because it’s a good thing to do. They live in community with one another because it’s an outflow of their shared belief and hope. Yes, we should strive to follow their example. But if we do so because we see their lives as a “should” of Scripture, just a template for us to obey to get this Christian life right, it will inevitably fall short and be empty of the lifeblood that makes it so appealing in the first place. Christian community without the hope of Christ is still a community, but not the community we long for.

How can you, if you follow Jesus, reflect this kind of fellowship today? Look for a way to gather with and encourage a brother or sister in Christ because of your shared hope in your savior.

By Jessica Rust

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A Community Blueprint? | Acts 2:42-472021-09-24T14:15:13-06:00

Power and Presence in the Flames | Acts 2:3-4

There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. Exodus 3:2

They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Acts 2:3-4

Throughout scripture, God’s presence is marked by fire. Not exclusively, but often. Think of the burning bush (Ex. 2), the pillar of fire that travels with the Israelites (Ex. 13:21-22), Ezekiel’s visions (Ezek. 10:6-7), and Elijah’s sacrifice on top of Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:38). Yesterday, we talked about how the rush of wind filling the room in Acts 2 would have brought to mind God’s breath of creation, as well as other times God is present in the wind throughout the Old Testament. Similarly, the tongues of fire also would have brought to mind these previous demonstrations of God’s presence and power.

In this passage in Acts, God’s presence, marked by tongues of flame, is not a phenomenon that they witness from a distance. It rests on each of them. God’s presence, his Spirit, goes with them and empowers them. It is powerful and awe-inspiring but deeply intimate at the same time. The mystery of the Spirit is encapsulated in this. God is not to be put in a box, “not safe,” as C.S. Lewis puts it, unable to be contained, and yet our comforter and advocate at the same time- partnering with us and empowering us to do the work of God in our world as we have been called to do.

Where have you seen both sides of the Spirit in your life, both the power and glory and the gentle intimacy and care? Reflect on those God moments today and thank God for the ways he has shown up in your life. Ask him to open your eyes to the ways he is present and active today.

By Jessica Rust

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Power and Presence in the Flames | Acts 2:3-42021-09-20T12:23:35-06:00

He’s Gone Again? | Acts 1:9-11

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” Acts 1:9-11

Jesus keeps things interesting, doesn’t he? The apostles were just asking him about bringing the Kingdom, probably the last thing they were expecting was for him to leave them again! Yet leave them he does, and in a very memorable manner.

Sometimes it’s hard to be the one left behind, even if it’s necessary and even good. My daughter is going through her phase of separation anxiety right now. As soon as she is left by my husband or I- even if we just walk into the kitchen and she’s in the living room- she starts to cry. But as good parents it’s essential that we let her learn that she’s ok even when we leave for short periods of time. It’s part of teaching her to be independent and resilient, even if it’s not her preference in the moment. Jesus leaving the disciples allows them to grow up, in a sense. He gives them the opportunity to put into action what he has commissioned them to do, as confusing and frustrating as it may have felt. And as we see in the rest of the New Testament, they are able to do so in ways they probably never imagined!

And, he doesn’t truly leave them alone. Jesus has physically left their presence to ascend to heaven, but he isn’t gone from their story. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection permeates all of Acts and is the motivating factor behind all that his followers do and say. And as the angel reminds the Apostles at the end of this passage, Jesus will return in the same way they have seen him go into heaven (v. 11).

Listen to your favorite worship song today and praise Jesus for all he has done, and all he continues to do in our world.

By Jessica Rust

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He’s Gone Again? | Acts 1:9-112021-09-14T17:21:57-06:00

Gratitude for One Another | Ephesians 1:15-16

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. Ephesians 1:15-16

Take a look at Ephesians 1, Philippians 1, and Colossians 1. All three chapters have a section, sometimes a lengthy one, where Paul gives thanks for the believers in the church he is writing to. True, a thanksgiving section was typical for letters at this time, but Paul also genuinely seems to mean it. He really loves the people he is writing to and wants their best. He enjoys and treasures the time that they spent together and their memory really does fill him with joy and thanksgiving.

Do you resonate with Paul’s love for his fellow believers? Sometimes this can be hard to do. Every church community will fall short and fail one another- sometimes in serious ways. For those of us dealing with hurtful or even abusive interactions with other Christians it can be extremely difficult to summon a glimmer of thankfulness in the midst of the pain and frustration. Even if our frustrations are fairly low stakes, disappointment can cloud our view of our church body.

It can take work to find reasons to be thankful for our brothers and sisters in Christ, but there are reasons to be thankful. Thankful for the volunteers who help our church run. Thankful for those who gather to study Scripture and pray together week after week. Thankful for the kids who run around the building. Thankful for friends and strangers who gather together to worship our God. Thankful that we do not walk the path of faith alone.

Who are you thankful for? Write a thank you note (or thank you email) to someone in our church body. Don’t stop there. Pray Paul’s prayer for them as well. And if you find yourself struggling to be thankful for anyone or anything in the church right now, ask God to bring someone to mind.

By Jessica Rust

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Gratitude for One Another | Ephesians 1:15-162021-09-02T14:17:34-06:00
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